Monday, February 28, 2005

josh rouse + 2005 update

Here's my take on Josh Rouse's Nashville; the review has both very good parts and very bad parts. I pray for real talent. And more rigorous editing. Oh well...

Brief notes on 2005's other releases that I've heard so far (weird formatting stuff, like some titles being all-caps and others in italics, are due to some of this being copied-and-posted point blank from an internet music geek discussion group, and other stuff being new, and me being lazy):

Mercury Rev, THE SECRET MIGRATION - disappointing, though it's hard to pinpoint exactly where this goes wrong. As a piece of atmosphere, it's mostly right on, since they still know their way around a studio, but there's something bland and enervated about it. If I had to venture a nutsoid theory about why this might be, it would be that the bass lines here are considerably more fluid and bouncy than on DESERTER'S SONGS (I haven't heard ALL IS DREAM, but I gather it's even more stately than SONGS, if that's possible), and that this is a bad thing because DESERTER'S SONGS uses simple bass lines to provide a foundation for a sonic chasm that develops between treble sounds freaking out all over the place and the head-nodding stoner bass. Maybe another thing to think about is that DESERTER'S SONGS is, at heart, an Americana album (those guest appearances from members of The Band give it away; just strip away the synth strings from "Opus 40," and you've got a super-simple drum beat plus organ, and that's all), and this is more of an adult-contemporary type thing. Still, I'm just barely pro on it because it makes nice background music, and because "Across Yer
Ocean" actually is a great song.

...and you will know us by the trail of dead, WORLDS APART - this CD is retarded. I'm partially handicapped because I really haven't listened to Source Tags & Codes; I liked it two years ago, but recent listens haven't done much for me. The lyrics do a lot of damage on their own: "What do you think now of the American dream," sneers Conrad Keely after indicting the usual list of MTV pop stars and deceitful politicians, and the question isn't any more stinging this time than the 12,594 times it was asked before (Keely probably spells it "Amerikan" too). But the music's not great either: opener "Overture" (no, really) cops a rip from Koyaanisqatsi, intentionally or not (along with NIN's "A Warm Place" and A.C. Newman's "The Battle For Straight Time" - weird company), and then promisingly spirals into the punishing opening of "Will You Smile Again." And then the guitars stop raging, some kind of weird stop-start balladry kicks in, and the CD never regains ground, no matter how many bad gospel-vocalist arrangements it throws in. There are isolated nice snatches of sound (I like the thunderous beat on "Let It Dive," which a bud acutely compared to Oasis, which is about right), but the thing's a mess overall. Which is a shame, because I'm normally all about boosting Austin bands. Thank jesus Spoon has a new record coming out soon.

Graham Coxon, HAPPINESS IN MAGAZINES - 10 solid rock-pop songs (11 with the bonus Astralwerks track), plus 2 deviant experiments that go very awry but can easily be cut. And if you think solid pop isn't good enough, why isn't there more of it. Why. Also Coxon can be a clever lyricist on occasion, even if his best moments are all about guitars and girls. Best song: "Bittersweet Bundle Of Misery."

Bright Eyes, DIGITAL ASH IN A DIGITAL URN - None of the songs here is disastrous, but very few of them pull together all the elements in a consistently compelling way (although "I Believe In Symmetry" and closer "Easy Lucky Free," which traffics in the kind of swooning bass-oriented doomed romanticism I'm always a sucker for, are keepers). I had to guess as to what to cut from my iPod and what to keep. Still, I'm inclined to be charitable, since I really like this whole new laptop pop thing (I refuse to play along with the "lappop" moniker assigned by pitchfork, at least just yet - I considered it myself before they started using it but come on; that's just awkward).

Lemon Jelly, '64-'95 - Lemon Jelly are both underrated (because apparently no one knows who they are) and overrated (because they really are just electronica easy-listening). But this is nice and easy, and these guys are capable of true loveliness when they feel like it (see their production for William Shatner on "Together" on his Has Been). And I'll continue to feel inexplicable loyalty for them, despite the fact that they've never truly rocked my world.

Doves, SOME CITIES - THE LAST BROADCAST is one of my all-time favorite records. Just so you know what my level of expectation was. On a few songs they act like they are not gonna save the world with uplifting, monstrously huge songs that sound like U2 if
they didn't suck, but then they realize they are the Doves and that is what they do, so we get monster anthems like "Walk In Fire," which is as it should be. However they have ditched the Sean O'Hagen string arrangements and brass and whatnot, instead embracing murkier recording techniques and especially their guitars (the emphasis on amp noise, manual-labor crescendoes, etc., occasionally reminds me of the Walkmen, if that gives you the idea, though they're obviously nothing like them). A song that should be mentioned as something quite special that does not fit the pre-established Doves template is "The Storm," which is probably the best Morcheeba song never written. There is a woozy, warm string background which is broken up with skips that add to the dreamy feel after they stop being jarring, and are therefore awesome. To reiterate: Doves lose clarity and part of recording budget, gain songs that can be played live with guitars and some awesome new rockers. Ultimately I am slightly underwhelemed because this does not focus on the anthems as much and does not have as much of the expertly arranged bombast I value so highly, but they're mature kids and get to do whatever they want, and more power to them.

The Game, THE DOCUMENTARY - pretty fuckin' fascinating. I've ignored most of the CDs put out by the Aftermath clique, because the spare production associated with the singles of 50 Cent, G-Unit, Lloyd Banks et al. holds zero interest for me (and I've recently finally accepted that I'm 90% about the production and maybe 10% about the actual flow; hence why Nas holds not too much fascination for me most days, despite his expert prowess. The exception that proves the rule is Eminem, but then again I am an angry white child of suburbia, and he did galvanize a moment back in the day.), but this - like, e.g., The Black Album - is a producer's showcase. The line-up alone is drool-worthy (Dr. Dre! Just Blaze! Kanye West! Timbaland!), and for the most part doesn't disappoint. The best and biggest news is that this is some of Dr. Dre's best work in years: on tracks like "Westside Story," standard-issue taunts about how the West Coast is back are enlivened by imaginative touches far from the spare autopilot the Dr. appears to have been on lately (and unfortunately passed on to Eminem); there's even the lush soul-string sample of "Hate It Or Love It," which will hopefully be one of the biggest singles of 2005. Kanye only contributes one track, the soulful and meditative "Dreams" (here Kanye abets The Game's hyperbolic comparisons, which are obscene even by hip-hop's outsized standards: it seems that he, like Martin Luther King Jr. - no, really - has a dream, and the sampled voice backs him up on this); Just Blaze then demonstrates that his like-minded fetish for old samples is quite a different beast, contributing two hugely energizing rave-ups built around funk beats, horns, etc. Eminem comes a cropper - no surprise there, though the little-boy-trying-to-sound-scary taunting of "We Ain't" is still pretty damn embarassing - but, interestingly, the challenge of rapping with him causes the Game to slip right into distinctly Em-esque meter. More surprisingly, Timbaland produces a boring track. Dude!

As far as the Game's actual rhyming skills, he does little to personally justify the hype - albeit a hype fully justified for the actual album, thanks to the beats - but also little to incur the taunting much of the media has given him. He's competent, with an interesting vulnerability that pops out occasionally - a curious, half-formed mixture of gangsta bravado and sentimental shout-outs to brothahoood and family - a seemingly tamped-down misogyny where he wishes to just spend time "just my, my son, and my bitch," and the occasional inspired taunt (my personal favorite: "You niggas is WNBA: all pussies"). Good stuff, with less filler than usual for a rap album. And no skits!

Aqueduct, I SOLD GOLD - totally frustrating. Well-structured pop with good hooks completely undermined by a tinny recording concept - basically just some cheap keyboards, drum machines, and thin guitars. These would sound really good re-recorded by a real band. But was it this "unique" (but bad!) sound that got Aqueduct attention in the first place? What I do like is the acknowledgement, on "Growing Up With GNR," is the admission that all indie culture started at someplace decidedly non-alternative. We need more confessions like that.

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